Early thoughts from a Pilgrimage ...
Last week we (the other pilgrims and I) walked in Tuscany - from San Gimignano to Montalcino. A mere 65 miles of the ancient Cammino, which goes from Canterbury to Rome, a total of 1300 miles. We called it a Pilgrimage for we wanted to make it a time when we intentionally spent time to draw closer to God.
And on the way we met Alice.
Rucksack on back, skin tanned, legs strong - walking from Hertfordshire to Rome. Alice graduated earlier this summer from her studies of mediaeval history; left her home in Hertfordshire on June 23rd and set out to walk to Rome. Take time to think. Cogitate on what may lie ahead for her. And meet her parents in Rome on September 23.
We were fascinated, astonished, curious. Why do it? Where did she stay at night? Would she be there in time? What did her parents think about it? And is it changing her, or her attitudes or beliefs?
Her tales were of sordid campsites in northern Europe, of a night finding nowhere to sleep and walking on in the dark - 30 miles without a stop, and then of warm Italians and welcoming Catholic churches and convents and parishes; and of how their faith was drawing her in, causing her to reconsider her agnosticism and making her wonder about becoming a Roman Catholic. And of calling her mother every other day to reassure her.
Later that night, when we had toiled up a hill to stay at the Fattoria Pieve a Salti and were sitting by the pool under the setting sun, we prayed for her, for her safety and for her faith. Thought of her sleeping in the parish church at Buonconvento, and of the 201 km she still has to walk to reach Rome.
Maybe some of us felt inadequate - our 65 miles felt very tiny in comparison. Most of us felt old - Alice is 22, our pilgrim party contained two who are 73, one who is 70 and one who is about to be; several in their 60's and 50's.
But comparisons are not always reality.
As we arrived in Montalcino after a long steep incline at 20% there was a grand sense of achievement.
Physically - many of the pilgrim party were not used to long walks each day, steep hills, strange beds, learning long sections of Psalm 27: The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?
One thing have I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to inquire in his temple...
For he will hide me in his shelter in the day of trouble; he will conceal me under the cover of his tent; he will lift me high upon a rock...
You have said, “Seek my face.” My heart says to you, “Your face, LORD, do I seek.”
Teach me your way, O LORD, and lead me on a level path because of my enemies.
Wait for the LORD; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the LORD!
And spiritually - thinking of how the deer desires, longs, pants profoundly for water in the intense heat, especially the day we were unable to refill empty water bottles and the sun was hot and the path long and steep. How deep is our desire and longing for the Lord in our lives?
Or our ability to walk at all, being so wonderfully complex in our makeup, walking so slowly as we revelled in God's creation of us.
Remembering one morning of how He walks beside us. One pilgrim spoke of the intense sense of the Lord's Presence beside her as we imagined His walking alongside us - and of how that Presence was accompanying her ever since.
One morning, married couples held hands and prayed together as they walked - one couple said they had not walked hand-in-hand for thirty years. Nor prayed together like that. You could almost see their marriage strengthen.
65 miles. 12 pilgrims (although only 10 made it the whole way). 6 days of walking. Too much pasta and plenty of water. No blisters, no falls, no casualties. God walked beside us, watched over us, drew us closer to Him. And each other.
And now it's over.
And already some are looking forward to next year and walking the next part - Montalcino to Vitterbo.
Come with us? Curious though it may be, walking in order to spend intentional time with God seems to work.